Category Archives: Cooking

Food and Fun

Today was the Spunster, my spinning group’s annual Spin In and Potluck located in a beautiful valley in our mountains at the home of our delightful hostess and host.  We get to sit around and spin on the lovely porches, socialize, and eat and our significant others are encouraged to participate with us for this event.  An afternoon of crafting, walking the woods, touring their business, Strauch Fiber Equipment (http://www.strauchfiber.com/) and enjoying the delicious food contributions.

Today, I contributed two salad favorites.

Ranch Pasta & Potato Salad

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  • 6 small Red Potatoes with skins on cubed 1/2″
  • 6 oz spiral pasta (approx 2 c) {Gluten free is fine}
  • 1/2 c chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/4 c chopped green onion, bulb and stem
  • 8 slices bacon cooked crisp and chopped
  • 1/2 c mayonnaise
  • 1/2 c Ranch dressing (I use the light version)

Boil the potatoes for 3-4 minutes, add pasta and cook about 9 minutes til pasta is soft cooked (not al dente). Rinse with cold water and drain well.  Toss with chopped vegetables.  Blend dressing and toss into salad with bacon.  Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

This makes about 8-9 cups of salad.  I got this recipe from my daughter, who got it from a friend, who got it from ????  I have seen variations of it on the internet, so I don’t know where to give credit.

My other contribution was:

Three Bean Salad

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I think this one came off a can of beans many years ago, maybe…

  • 1 each 15 oz can of Red Kidney, Cannelini, and Garbanzo beans
  • 3 c chopped vegetables ( I use the other half of the red bell pepper, carrot, onion)
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil
  • 1/3 c wine vinegar or Apple cider vinegar
  • 2 finely minced gloves of garlic
  • 1/2-1 tsp Italian Seasoning (I don’t buy mixed seasoning, so I use basil, oregano, thyme, parsley)
  • 2 Tbs Parmesan cheese

Drain beans and combine with chopped vegetables.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Blend Olive oil, vinegar and herbs well in blender or with wand blender and pour over bean mixture.  Stir and chill several hours.

This makes about 7 cups of salad.

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There was a lot of yarn spun, some knitting done, much eating, socializing and a beer or two consumed.  It was a delightful afternoon with a wonderful group of friends.

Kitchen mishaps

We have all had them, right?  The burned toast or worse, empty pan on the hot burner.  If you own a microwave, you learn that bags must be pierced with a hole to release steam, lids must be loosened.  But sometimes our mind wanders or is on other “more important” issues and we have a kitchen mishaps.  I started my day with one, triggering this post.

A decade or so ago, I was still working and had to be at work by 7 a.m., yes, I know that is early and I never wanted to eat that early, so I began a routine of taking something that could be warmed in the microwave for my breakfast.  Usually that was a pair of boiled eggs and a chunk of cheese.  The eggs were chopped and warmed slightly as I don’t care for them cold from the fridge.  Last night I wanted a hard cooked egg with our cold Mediterranean supper and salad.  Since I raise chickens for eggs, the eggs are fresh and don’t peel well when boiled, but do beautifully when steamed, but it takes much longer to cook them that way and since I set up the steamer, I decided to cook a couple extra for breakfast.  This morning, without thinking, I popped the bowl with two peeled hard cooked eggs in the microwave for less than a minute.  I forgot to cut them in half first and was busy cutting cheese when POW, one egg all over the inside of the microwave.  Quickly I turned it off, removed the bowl and began the cleanup so it wouldn’t harden, leaving the second egg in the bowl on the counter.  Once the microwave was cleaned, I turned to chop the what should be the now cooled second egg and as soon as I cut into it, it too exploded, not quite as bad, leaving most of it still in the bowl.  The kitchen is cleaned up and I will remember next time to cut the eggs in half or prechop and only warm for 30 seconds.

This brought back memories of other kitchen mishaps.  The time I was making a hot salsa that I had learned about by watching the housekeeper/cook when visiting Mexico a decade ago.  It requires that the hot ingredients be placed in a blender and blended, adding a few other ingredients later.  I forgot to put the lid on the blender and had hot salsa on the walls, floor and ceiling of the kitchen.

Or the time I went to pour boiling water from the tea kettle over my tea in a mug not realizing the water had been boiling longer than I thought and it perked and spewed out all over my Color Nook, ruining it.
What is you most disastrous kitchen mishap?
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Canning Time

Recently there have been a few evenings when I wanted a quick dinner only to realize that there was no more pasta sauce and the only broth was frozen.  Last summer was cool and rainy, good for the greens and beans, but not so good for the tomatoes, plus I had planted fewer of them as I was overwhelmed the prior summer.  Because the harvest was lighter and more sporadic, I blanched, peeled and froze the tomatoes in vacuum seal bags, instead of canning them into the usual pasta sauce, tomatoes with green chilies and plain tomatoes.  Periodically this winter, I have hauled out a few bags and made enough pasta sauce for a couple of dinners, freezing the extra.  I don’t like using the microwave, though we have one, so thawing sauce or broth requires foresight.

Today and tomorrow are beautiful early springlike days, highs in the 60s, sunny with the buds beginning to show on the lilacs and forsythia.  These are the days when Jim wants to get on his motorcycle and go for a ride.  His rides give me time to do crafts or household jobs.  I decided early today that I was going to take most of the remaining frozen tomatoes and make a big pot of sauce and can it so that dinner is just a few steps to the pantry, a box of pasta and in the time it takes to boil the water and heat the noodles, the sauce can be heated.

When we killed chickens last fall, we cut some into pieces and as we don’t have a cleaver, we deboned the breasts.  That left us with several carcasses with back meat and random other meat scraps on them.  They were bagged together and thrown in the freezer with the bagged and sealed birds and parts.  This seemed like a good day to take care of them too and to thaw the 2 quarts of turkey broth in the freezer and make pints of broth, also canned to have quickly available to cook rice or as the base for soup or potpie.

Late winter is not the usual time for canning around here, but the empty jars, lids and three large pots were hauled out.  Sauce cooked in one, broth simmering in the second and finally, several inches of water started to boiling in the pressure canner.

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The 10 pints of tomato sauce have finished canning, 9 pints of broth are building pressure and as soon as the pressure is down enough to open the canner, the last 3 pints of broth will go into the canner for processing.

As a bonus, the carcasses yielded 11 ounces of cooked chicken to add to soup or a casserole.  This will make meal prep easier for the remainder of winter and spring until the garden starts giving us fresh goodness to enjoy.  It will also let me consolidate the remaining frozen produce and chickens into the refrigerator freezer to let the chest freezer defrost and get a good cleaning before we have more table birds and produce to add to it.

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Not a bad day’s work.

Life is always an adventure on our mountain farm.

 

The Sitter

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Several times each academic year,  she travels 4 hours northeast to have quality time with the eldest grandson. He is an active 8 year old, she has two score and 18 on him, but young at heart. Her primary purpose is to provide daycare on his non school days when his parents both have school and/or work. She supervises his homework and guitar practice on those days and gets to enjoy one on one time as well.

Often, an outting or two is planned, weather permitting, the winter being the most difficult to find things to do. His house is less than a mile from the Metro train into Washington, but the temperature is too cold to endure the walk and finding parking there is nearly impossible as it is a terminal commuter station. She seeks alternative activities. 

Today he went roller skating with his School Age Child Care Program, thus giving  her half a day of solo time. Time spent helping out the family with some household chores, buying a few groceries to have the rest of the ingredients for chicken enchiladas for dinner, utilizing some of the meat that her son helped put in the freezer last spring or fall.

Tomorrow, they will either brave the cold, though somewhat warmer and visit one of the Smithsonian museums on the mall or brave the traffic and visit the Space Museum near Dulles.

Family time will be enjoyed Saturday and she will return to her hubby and the farm life on Sunday.

Another Comfort Day

When we went to bed last night it was snowing and the ground was lightly covered.  It was around freezing outside and we had hope of rising this morning to our first real snowfall of the winter.  Instead, we woke to bright sun, 17f (-8c) temperatures and 35 mph wind.  The snow from last night was piled in neat dunes along the edges of each pass of the brush hog from the last mowing.  It is now mid afternoon and the temperature has only edged up to 22f (-5.5c) and not expected to rise further today and the wind is still howling.

When I was a child, on especially cold winter days (I’m from Virginia Beach, so it was rarely this cold), my Mom would make Vegetable Soup.  Her veggie soup had a soup bone in it and was made with canned veggies, but it was comfort food.  I cook much differently than my mother did, using fresh or fresh frozen veggies and only grass finished, pasture raised meat.  Hubby would rather have stew than soup, I prefer the soup.  On this cold winter day, I decided that we could have the best of both with a pound of stew meat in the freezer, plenty of our homegrown peas, green beans and tomatoes in the freezer, potatoes, carrots,celery, onions and garlic in the root cellar or refrigerator and dried herbs in the spice drawer in the kitchen.  The base for the soup as I make it and the stew are the same and from there I will diverge.

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Vegetable Beef Soup

1 lb stew beef (or venison) lightly browned in a heavy stock pot with olive oil

1 large onion coarsely chopped

4 large cloves of garlic coarsely chopped

3 stalks celery with leaves, sliced about 1/4″ thick

1 Tbs dried basil

2 bay leaves

1 quart broth or water plus 2 cups water

1 c peas

2 c green beans cut in 1″ pieces

3 medium potatoes scrubbed and diced

2 carrots sliced

2 c crushed tomatoes

Saute the beef in olive oil til no outer surfaces are pink.  Add onion and continue to saute until onion is translucent, add garlic and saute for about 2 minutes, add celery, basil and bay leaves and stir to coat.  Add broth and water, bring to a boil and reduce heat to a low simmer for at least 2 hours.  Add tomatoes, potatoes and carrots and cook until potatoes and carrots are nearly tender, add peas and beans until thawed and hot through.  Serve with bread for a complete comfort dinner.

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Before I met my husband (a long, long time ago), I was a non meat eater and owned several nutrition and cook books that have long since passed from my library.  One of those cook books, The Vegetarian Epicure, I think, had a recipe for Herb and Onion Bread which became a favorite with my family.  It is a quick bread that can be made easily in an afternoon.  It doesn’t require kneading, though, I often stiffen it a bit and knead it anyway.  It makes a lovely accompaniment to a soup or stew.

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Herb and Onion Bread

1/2 c scalded milk cooled to warm

1 1/2 Tbs raw sugar

1 tsp salt

1 Tbs soft butter

1/2 c warm water

1 Tbs dry yeast

2 1/4 c flour

1/2 small onion minced

1 tsp crushed rosemary

1/2 tsp dill weed dry

Dissolve sugar, salt and butter in cooled milk.  Dissolve yeast in warm water.  Add milk mixture, flour, onion and herbs and stir vigorously with a heavy spoon until smooth.  Cover bowl and allow to rise to triple bulk, about 45 minutes.  Stir down and beat vigorously.  Turn into a greased loaf pan and let stand 10 minutes in a warm draft free location.  Bake @ 350f until done. (the recipe said 1 hour, however, I have never with any oven in any location I have lived been able to bake it more than about 45 minutes without it getting too brown and dry, just check it after about 45 minutes and decide).

Tonight we will both enjoy our own version of comfort food, as I will remove the meat and portion of the broth and add about half of the potatoes and carrots to it to cook then thicken for stew and add the other half of the potatoes and carrots along with the other vegetables to make my soup and we will both enjoy the bread.  What better way to spend a cold windy afternoon than filling the house with the aromas of homemade soup and bread.

Life is indeed good on our mountain farm.

Another food day

Today was a rainy day.  It started with frozen rain and a slick walk to the chicken coop to let them out, but then the rain set in.  Rainy days are comfort food days and as I had put away tomatoes in the freezer last summer and fall, after blanching, peeling and crushing them, I decided it would be a good day for a big pot of pasta sauce.  There are onions in the house, carrots in the fridge, celery that I had chopped and frozen, lots of garlic from last summer’s garden and the herb and spice supply well stocked.  I don’t use jarred sauce, well not commercial jarred sauce.  Instead, when I make sauce, I make plenty, jar up the extra in wide mouth pint jars and then either can or freeze it for a quick meal on another day.  My sauce takes many hours of simmering, but is so worth the effort.

Our use of the post holiday discount that we got from the local grocery had resupplied the dry pasta supply as well, so homemade sauce and angel hair was the meal of the evening.

Pasta Sauce

2 medium onions chopped

1 head of garlic peeled and minced

4 stalks of celery chopped

2 carrots, diced

12 cups of crushed tomatoes

1-2 Tbs dried oregano

1-2 Tbs dried basil

1 Tbs fennel seed

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

2 tsp salt (if tomatoes are unsalted)

EVOO to coat the bottom of a heavy pot

Saute the onions, celery and carrots until the onions are translucent.  Add the garlic and stir for a minute or two until the garlic is fragrant.  Add the tomatoes, herbs, fennel and salt, bring to a low boil and reduce to a low simmer for several hours, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking.  As the sauce thickens, break up the tomatoes and adjust seasoning to taste.

At this point, precooked Italian sausage links or crumbled sausage can be added if desired.  Hubby likes it with meat, I am just as happy with it as it.

Serve over the pasta of your choice and top with shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese and more crushed red pepper if you want more spice. 20130908_143737

This comfort meal provided a great meal for 2 plus 5 pint jars of sauce for the freezer for an easy meal on another night.